“—they won’t listen. What exactly do you think I can do about that?”
Lightning’s peeved tone drew Hope to a halt as he stopped in his steps and turned his head toward the doorway where Snow was pacing the room and Lightning leaned against a wall with her arms crossed. It was late enough that the sun was already setting and the the shadows were reaching through the room before the lights needed to be turned on, and there was something strangely nostalgic at the sight of the two of them brooding in a room like that at dusk while the trees and ground were bare outside through the windows.
“They’re going to march straight to their own deaths at this rate.” Snow ranted, footfalls heavy as he paced the room. Lightning didn’t so much as acknowledge his words, although she didn’t have to. “There’s more than enough land for all of us!”
“Tell that to the people still too scared to leave Cocoon.” Lightning scoffed, and then sighed before unfolding her arms. “As far as everyone are concerned, all creatures down here are monsters in need of extermination.”
Hope pressed a gloved hand against the wall and then slowly backed against it until his vision of the two was cut off. What were they talking about?
“Then they need to stop looking for trouble!” Snow exclaimed hotly before he stopped in his steps and Hope heard an explosive exhale of breath. “Sorry. I had to deal with this once already, and it didn’t end well.”
“We’re all going through this a second time.” Lightning replied, much calmer now. They were quiet for a few moments, and Hope shifted his weight against the wall. “...We’ll change it this time.”
“Will we?” Snow’s tone was darker than what Hope could remember from the man. “Can we? I don’t know much about changing the future, but I know it’s had drastic consequences before.”
“That won’t happen this time.” Lightning interjected, cutting him off. “Serah’s not involved in this anymore.”
Serah? Hope mouthed, surprised. What did Serah have to do with…? Well, he still wasn’t sure what they were talking about yet, but now he was starting to feel vaguely guilty about listening in.
“How do you know that for sure?”
“Because I know. Move on, Snow.”
Another long moment of silence, and then a thump as Snow dropped himself into the old squeaky couch, making Hope wince at the resulting sound.
“...I’ll take you on your word for it.” The man sounded so tired, and Hope wondered just what happened— what had he missed? He couldn’t remember a time when Snow sounded that tired at all, not even during their time as l’Cie and the man had discovered that their purpose hadn’t been to save Cocoon. “If we’re allowed to change things, it still doesn’t mean that we can.”
“Oh?” There was a scoff. “And what happened to doing the impossible?”
“Yeah, well. There’s only so many miracles one person can deliver at a time.”
There was a pause. “You’re an idiot.” A thunking noise and then a startled and somewhat painful yelp from Snow, before Lightning continued. “You’re not doing this by yourself. I shouldn’t have to remind you, hero.”
“...Heh. Yeah, yeah. We’ve got the whole gang here. I’m still not used to it, I guess… been on my own for a long while now.”
“That was your choice.”
“You think so? You don’t think I tried to keep everyone together after Hope—”
“Stop.” Lightning ordered, a sharpness in her tone that could cut through the air. “Not right now.”
“Yeah? Then when? You won’t talk about it. I can’t talk about it. Not to Serah. Not to Sazh. And definitely not to Noel. How am I supposed to look my wife in the eyes and lie if she asks about the timeline I come from? You’re the one who said not to reveal any information, and you’re just— “
A shadow fell over Hope and he tensed, already knowing who it was.
“Hope.” Lightning’s voice was flat and entirely unimpressed, and he couldn’t remember the last time she sounded so disappointed in him. Nor could he figure out how he hadn’t heard her footsteps cross the room at all. He looked up guiltily to see her glaring down at him with her arms crossed. She didn’t say anything more, although Hope imagined that he probably looked as guilty as he felt.
It was almost hard in that moment to remember that he was actually an adult.
“...Hi.” He finally responded after a long moment, eyes as wide as they would go. She didn’t seem to buy into the innocence act. “I was just coming to get you guys because Serah wanted to know how long we were staying…?”
Lightning didn’t respond, nor did her expression change in the slightest, but it was Snow who popped his head out from around the doorframe, the earlier frustration and gloom almost entirely gone as the man grinned at him like nothing was wrong.
“Did she want to go?” The blond asked, as if the previous conversation Hope had just overheard hadn’t happened at all. “I thought she wanted to stay for dinner as well.”
It made Hope shiver, to realize that Snow’s normally nonchalant attitude might not actually be so… calm, after all. He always assumed…
But then again, things changed. And he didn’t know what Snow had gone through.
He didn’t know what any of them had gone through.
“I— um.” He twisted gloved fingers together and snapped his mouth shut. Lightning’s stare was intense, and felt like pinpricks on his skin. “I told dad I’d make it home for dinner, and she said the Cie’th stones were a bit far of a walk if it got too dark…”
It was embarrassing to admit. The kids had already returned back home, and Dajh had settled down for a rare nap, wiped out by the amount of energy expended during the day and possibly the amount he consumed as well. He was more than willing to set out on his own, perhaps after a goodbye to everyone else, but…
It was just the way both Serah and Noel tensed when he said that. Another reminder to the things they had seen that he had not.
“That’s a good point.” Snow agreed amiably. “Who’s staying with you this week? You’ve still got that apartment below you that’s empty, right?”
“No one.” Hope said, and then took a breath. “I don’t need anyone else to stay there with me. Rygdea has the Guardian Corps patrolling the streets at all hours now, and—”
“How much did you hear?” Lightning interjected, clearly having enough of their faux nonchalant banter.
Hope attempted to back up a step, uncertain in the face of Lightning’s disapproval, only to remember that he already had his back pressed against the wall and was making himself look more guilty with those actions. “...You said something about people not listening to you. I didn’t hear all that much. I just thought you guys would want to— talk it out first.”
Technically, it was the complete truth. He was just leaving out the secondary reasoning about how he wanted to know what was going on as well.
Lightning narrowed her eyes, and then turned her attention to Snow. “You and Serah can stay for dinner. I’ll take Hope back home.”
The man paused, and then asked hesitantly, “You sure, Sis?”
She didn’t respond, and Snow turned to give Hope a apologetic shrug before he grinned again and raised a hand to the back of his head, scratching at the skin of his neck. “Well, why not. I’ve been meaning to have a talk with Vanille, anyway. Haven’t managed to get to her all day, ever since she started playing with those kids…”
Hope didn’t think he would have a say in that, and there was a brief surge of irritation he quickly pushed down again at that, along with the rebellious thoughts about how he was an adult and didn’t need to be treated like a child… or lied to, for that matter. That he didn’t want to experience the same anger he had gone through when he first realized everyone had been hiding information from him.
Snow stepped around them delicately as he passed the hallway; a surprising maneuver for a man of his size, and then hurried along his way without giving a single look back.
Traitor, Hope thought darkly before he reluctantly rescinded that. If Lightning had been giving such a look to Snow… well, he would have stayed out of the way as well.
Lightning didn’t say much, although she waited long enough for Hope to grab his jacket and scarf before they stepped outside again, not even having said goodbye to the others. It was more than likely that Snow would have explained the situation to them anyway, likely using the words ‘Hope’s in huge trouble with Sis’ so that the others wouldn’t even have to question it.
Vanille had been right, and it really was passing the end of winter in New Bodhum. The skies were entirely clear, unlike back in the settlements where clouds had taken up an semi-permanent residence above them for the chance of rain at any time. There was still a chill on his exposed skin and Hope could see his breath with every puff of air, and he breathed against his gloved hands as he watched Lightning walk ahead of him warily.
The sand crunched beneath his boots like the snow had, but Lightning’s footfalls were near silent especially compared to his own. Hope found himself falling behind after a few steps and had to increase his stride and jog slightly just to catch up to her again. As they passed the hastily built town border and started heading out into the darkness away from the shining lights from houses, she still hadn’t said anything.
His stomach felt twisted into knots, and it was Hope who finally broke the silence, unable to stand the dread of being in Lightning’s disregard. Had he just gotten too used to the idea that he could do no wrong in her eyes?
“...Light?” He asked hesitantly, wringing his hands together even as they stepped over the rocks that separated the area of New Bodhum from the wilderness of Gran Pulse. “I didn’t mean to listen in. I just—”
He trailed off, unable to continue on that vein. He had meant to listen in. All these months, and he hadn’t managed to get any significant information out of any of them. It was like if everyone pretended things were normal, they would all just be able to forget about the futures they had experienced.
But it didn’t work that way! Hope wanted to yell at times, the urge only circumvented by an older sense of wisdom that tantrums would no one any good. It was easier to bear it and wait, and if there was anything he was really good at, Hope was good at waiting.
Lightning’s footsteps slowed in front of him, and he almost wondered if she was ready to turn and yell at him now for eavesdropping, because she thought better of him than that, because he had thought better of himself than that. He tensed, waiting for the anger to be directed his way, and wondered if he himself would react to it with the calm acceptance of an adult used to diffusing difficult situations, or whether that surge of teenage anger would take over last second and have him responding in kind.
He wondered if it would do them any good to just— be mad at each other and lay it all out.
What was he mad about? Everything, was the answer that surprised him. That she kept so many secrets from him, that she made the others keep so many secrets. Wouldn’t it be better if everyone shared their stories? Shared their pain? Why was he not allowed to know? Why weren’t any of them allowed to know?
“I asked you before,” Lightning spoke, and she turned around to face him in the darkness, only her silhouette illuminated by the light of Cocoon. “If you would listen to me if I told you not investigate this.”
“I would.” He didn’t remember his response to her exactly, but it might have been in that affirmative. He couldn’t imagine otherwise. “But I’d want to know why.”
He could trust her blindly. It would be so easy. Hope had done that from time to time, especially during those first few days as a l’Cie, because he needed to trust in her, and she had never let him down. Lightning had always been his true North in such matters. If a traveler was lost, and could only find his sense of direction from the night sky, that traveler would never question the position of the stars. As a child, Hope was the same way.
...But it wasn’t just that child anymore. He trusted Lightning implicitly, there was no doubt about it. Hope wasn’t just a child who needed the support of adults around him any more— he was an adult as well. He needed to question things, needed to know why and how, because otherwise no one else would dare to ask and no one would ever get anywhere.
That’s what he learned in those years he had grown up with no one but his father and Rygdea to rely upon. If he didn’t question it… then people just wouldn’t. There weren’t very many voices who dared to speak and question things that were already established, like the position of stars in the sky.
“I don’t think that being ignorant is going to help anyone in the long run.” He admitted, linking his fingers in front of himself nervously. It was one thing to understand that he needed to question everything, but to actually do it… “But I know you must have a good reason to keep— to keep Snow from telling everyone else what he knows.”
And perhaps what she knew as well. She had never said anything to him about not speaking of his own experiences, but Hope knew that hardship of staying quiet already even without the ban.
“I want to know what happened. I think Serah would want to know what happened, too. She was upset that time, when I first told her I knew something was going on. She was upset when she couldn’t talk about Noel to anyone. And I think… I think Snow’s upset about the same time. He might need to talk to someone, and even if he doesn’t talk to me or Serah about this, I know he wants to talk to you—”
She raised a hand, and Hope fell silent, unsure of whether his bumbling words managed to convey the meaning he wanted.
I don’t think keeping silent is good for you, either.
They continued walking in the fading chill of the winter air, Hope working extra hard to keep his footsteps as stable as possible even if he couldn’t see where he was going sometimes.
“You’re right.” Lightning finally admitted quietly once they reached the plains where the group of Cie’th stones were, her steps slowing to fall in line with him rather than walking in front of him. “I do have a good reason.”
Oh. Of course she did. He said that himself, hadn’t he? Hope didn’t understand why he felt such a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, because of course Lightning had a good reason not to tell anyone about the different futures. What if by saying something, it would— validate or negate their existence? He didn’t know what he was thinking anymore, of course it wouldn’t be something like that… But either way, the reason must have been important for her to uphold the silence for so long. It meant that he would have to continue and wade through the dark, blank as to what happened…
“But it might be a very selfish reason.” Lightning continued softly, her voice barely louder than a whisper.
Hope stopped, and stared up at her.
“I may be the one who doesn’t want to think about what happened,” she continued, her expression hidden in the darkness of the night. “And if anyone else says something, then I wouldn’t be able to ignore it any longer. I’d have to face the fact that it all happened. That we failed so horribly for so many times… that nothing we did so far could save everyone.”
“That’s why we have this second chance.” Hope urged gently. “All those failures means we have all those different timelines to learn from. We know what not to do now, and that— that means we have more of a chance to make everything work out now than in any other timeline. Every failure is only another step on the road to success.”
He could see the dull reflective gleam of her eyes as she stared at him, and then feel the weight of her hand against his hair, slowly trailing down to the side of his face. He wondered if she could feel the heat of his flush through her thin gloves, or if she could somehow see him more than he could see her in the darkness.
“Heh.” The sound was nothing more than a huff of breath, but a more familiar tone than her earlier insecurity. “Is that what you say to all those people in the Academy?”
“No.” He admitted. “That’s what they say to me.”
She took an audible intake of breath, and then turned to continue on the last steps toward the dully glowing Cie’th stones. “I can see why the Academy was so important to the future, then.”
“Light.” He reached to grab at her hand before she could get too far away, feeling almost as if… if he let her walk away, then he might never see her again. It was a ridiculous thought— utterly preposterous, but it had certainly happened before already. “...The Academy would never have happened if you hadn’t been there… you know that, right?”
She stopped, and turned once again, allowing him to cling to her. “I wasn’t there, Hope.”
“You were.” He insisted. He didn’t know why that had taken him so long to understand, but… “You guys say that I’m so important, but I wouldn’t have been there if it hadn’t been for you. I wouldn’t be here. And everything I did in the Academy barely made a difference next to what Snow did, what Serah and Noel did. Next to what you must have done.”
He used to be so angry, if only in the dark hours of the night, on nights like this one. On the days when he felt acutely aware of his own loneliness, Hope would be furious with everyone who left him. With everyone else who happened to be so special that they were called to other things, to greater things, while he was left behind because he somehow didn’t measure up. In those times, he felt angry at everyone who left him, and then felt angry at himself just for feeling that way. Just what did he lack? Why wasn’t he chosen; why was he the only one left behind?
That anger abated by adulthood, but never truly went away. And even here in the new timeline… Hope had always been just that slightest been furious. It was a product of his own childhood, of that dark time growing up and finding himself lacking in every way that mattered.
He carried that anger with him everywhere, and had gotten so used to it that he didn’t even notice it for the most part. For all that he was supposed to be this great empathetic leader hailed in 400AF, Hope had never gotten over that childish anger that haunted him from before the fall of Cocoon. He might never get rid of the anger, but at least now he could acknowledge it. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t chosen, or that he was lacking, but maybe in some small way he could help now because Lightning was so important and if he could help her in any way…
Hope had been waiting, yes, but Lightning had spent her time actively fighting for humanity’s safety. What was his importance compared to the weight of all that responsibility?
“If you say not to question it,” he told her, even if the words were heavy in his throat, screaming against his very being, “then I won’t question it.”
They stood there for a long moment, and Hope started squirming under her gaze, until Lightning finally came back and step and reached up to flick him lightly against the forehead.
“You will question it.” She said, and it sounded like an order. “But not today. Today we’re getting you home before your father thinks you’ve been eaten by a Behemoth on your way back.”